Police still unable to enter 'arson-attack' home

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The Independent Online

Police today remained unable to enter the fire-ravaged home of a missing millionaire following a suspected arson attack.

The secluded country estate belonging to Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and their 15-year-old daughter Kirstie, is still unsafe for search teams to enter, two days after a blaze ripped through the property.

Fears are growing for the family, who have been missing since the fire in Maesbrook, near Oswestry, Shropshire, in the early hours of Tuesday. Fire crews this morning continued damping down Osbaston House, reportedly worth £1.2 million.

West Mercia Constabulary today refused to comment on reports that bullet cartridges and pools of blood were found in the courtyard.

The force also refused to confirm or deny newspaper reports which suggested that police feared Mr Foster may have shot dead his family before boarding himself in the house and setting fire to it.

A police spokesman said: "There is a lot of speculation going on. When we are able to we will issue facts. We are not able to go into the building so we do not know what, if anything, is inside. We are not making any comment on speculation."

The spokesman said it was not known how long it would take for the building to be deemed safe enough for officers to enter. The Fosters went to a friend's barbecue on Monday before returning home later that evening.

The fire started at around 5am, destroying a stable block and garage and badly damaging the house itself. Three horses were found dead.Ports and airports have been put on alert as part of the investigation, police said.

Police have refused to say if their investigation was a missing persons inquiry or a murder probe, or comment on reports that a horsebox had been parked in front of the gates to the property as the blaze took hold, blocking the entrance to emergency services.

Last night Mrs Foster's brother, Roger Doley, said he had been "gripped with dread" when neighbours told him what had happened.

The sales executive, from Perton, Wolverhampton, told the Express and Star: "When I got home and I saw a neighbour come across with her husband I was gripped with dread.

"I couldn't believe what she was telling me. The police called later and said they still don't know where the family are.

"They won't be able to go into the house for a couple of days because it's unsafe due to the extent of the fire. The waiting is killing me."

Mr Foster was described by neighbours as a "multi-millionaire" who made his fortune developing insulation technology for oil rigs. His 15-acre home, Osbaston House, is reportedly worth £1.2 million.

A Company Record from Companies House lists Mr Foster, 50, as the director of Ulva Limited, which went into compulsory liquidation in 2007. The same record names Mrs Foster, 49, as company secretary.

Ulva Ltd, a thermal insulation manufacturing company based in Telford, went in to administration on August 14 last year. A court order was issued on November 13 for the company to be wound up.

Birmingham-based firm Butcher Woods today confirmed it had been appointed as liquidator but declined to comment further. A West Mercia Police spokeswoman said a structural engineer visited the scene yesterday but had not yet declared it safe for officers to enter.

Fire crews and a forensic expert were also at the site and CCTV footage has been recovered. A one-mile cordon around the Fosters' property was put in place, closing part of a country lane in the tiny rural area called The Wood, which is near the village of Maesbrook.

About 80 officers and staff are working on the investigation, named Operation Feedback. Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 08457 444 888 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.